Film festivals are a great way to champion new work by directors you love and a chance to discover new voices that excite you. That’s why we love heading to Toronto to see Pablo Larraín triumph, and why we fly to Sundance to support films like Colombia’s Between Sea and Land. But smaller festivals, especially those catering to more specialized films, deserve our attention for the way they champion storytellers and filmmakers that might otherwise not get the exposure they deserve. That’s certainly the case of the African Diaspora International Film Festival (ADIFF) which is back this month for its 24th edition.
While stories about the black experience (see, for example, the success of the Miami-set Moonlight) are showing signs of an industry belatedly righting the wrongs of years past, it’s undeniable that black filmmakers from around the world play a disproportionately marginal role in what we get to see on our screens. That’s why ADIFF’s mission is “to present these films to diverse audiences, redesign the Black cinema experience, and strengthen the role of African and African descent directors in contemporary world cinema.” With a total of 66 films from 30 countries, they’re not only spotlighting Nigerian cinema but presenting projects that travel between Sweden and Gambia, Guadeloupe and France, and they’ll even be showing a musical documentary about a Malian pop star fighting against Radical Islamists with music.
Fortunately, in the global diaspora spirit of the fest, there are also a number of stories from our very own continent. With films tackling everything from Afro-Mexican heritage to Cuban baseball teams, this year’s edition of ADIFF serves as another reminder of the often under-explored African roots that are felt all across Latin America. Take a look at the 11 Latino films playing the fest below.
The African Diaspora Film Festival runs November 25 to December 11, 2016 in New York City.
Death by a Thousand Cuts
Co-produced by Univision Noticias and Pivot, Death by a Thousand Cuts turns the murder of a patrolling Dominican park ranger into a metaphor for the growing rift between Haiti and the Dominican Republic. Shot in the border between the two nations, which already signals the way each country has dealt with their natural resources (Haiti’s mass deforestation has led to illegal logging on the Dominican side fueling the black market for charcoal), this documentary exposes the long-simmering tensions that have led to xenophobia and racism on either side of the border.
Leidy, Fina and Clara have all left their children behind, under the care of their family members, to be able to take jobs taking care of other people’s children. Looking at the lives of live-in nannies, and the motherly connections that are created in their wake, Nana offers a touching portrayal of the expansive notion of “motherhood.”
Maria Bethânia: Música é Perfume
Part concert-film and part documentary, Maria Bethânia: Music is Perfume is a celebration of the famed musical legend whose interpretation of Brazilian music has inspired generations. Interviewing her friends and family (including her brother Caetano Veloso), Georges Gachot’s film is a rousing portrait of a musical icon.
Ghost Town to Havana
Two coaches, one in Oakland, one in Havana, are brought together in this sports documentary about the importance of inner-city mentorship. Roscoe Bryant is a 46 year old African-American man who coaches in a troubled Oakland neighborhood. Nicolas Reyes is a 61 year old Afro-Cuban who coaches in a Havana neighborhood. Both are driven by this need to offer an outlet for the kids they coach. Chronicling 5 years in the lives of these coaches, as well as the game in Havana that brought both their teams together, Ghost Town to Havana is a testament to the power of everyday heroism.
Diálogo con mi abuela
In 1993, Cuban filmmaker Gloria Rolando recorded a conversation she had with her grandmother, Leonarda Inocencia Armas y Abreu. That dialogue serves as the inspiration and the anchor of this docufiction project which aims to give voice to the Afro-Cuban experience. Scored with spiritual chants by El Grupo Vocal Baobab and filled with family photographs that stretch over a century, Rolando’s very personal film is a living document of the racial conflicts that remain all too vivid for many Afro-Caribbean women nowadays.
O dia de Jerusa
As its title promises, Jerusa’s Day aims to present a day in the life of a woman living in the neighborhood of Bela Vista in São Paulo. Dealing with her loneliness in a community filled with widows and single women who live day to day, this short film offers a glimpse into what Jerusa’s world looks like with surprising candor and empathy.
Invisible Roots: Afro-Mexicans in Southern California
Looking at what its directors call “the third root” of Mexico, Invisible Roots traces a story of the African diaspora by focusing on three Afro-Mexican families living in Southern California. Examining this oft-ignored identity, this short documentary film gives voice to those Mexicans whose race all too often makes them feel alienated from their own culture and subject to discrimination wherever they go.
Led by Haitian actor Jimmy Jean-Louis as Toussaint Louverture, the leader of the Haitian revolution, this French-produced two-part miniseries tells the story of one of the Caribbean’s most important historical figures. Following his life from childhood, where he saw what an enslaved life did to his father, to his time leading the militia against France on behalf of Saint Domingue (modern-day Haiti), this is the type of historical biopic that you don’t normally see so lavishly depicted. With plenty an action set-piece and period-garb, there’s enough to delight those eager to see this story finally up on the big screen.
Rosa Chumbe has a drinking and gambling problem. Her work as a police officer has hardened and numbed her to the world around her. When her daughter steals her savings and leaves her with her baby grandson, she’ll have to reexamine her life and perhaps soften her outlook in this feature film that shows us the urban world of contemporary Peru.
Le gang des Antillais
Filmed in Guadeloupe and France, this crime drama is a loose adaptation of the novel of the same name by Loïc Léry. It follows Jimmy Larivière as he gets entangled with the Gang des Antillais (Gang of the French Caribbean), a group of radical crooks who’ve grown exasperated with their arrival in mainland France. Director Jean-Claude Barny – who’s originally from Guadeloupe and Trinidad & Tobago and now resides in France – gives this film a French Connection vibe with an unflinching and thrilling look at the immigrant experience in the 1970s.
Joshua and Flint live in a low-income neighborhood in Saint-Rose, Guadeloupe. They spend their days bored, engaging in petty theft to pass the time and get money to do what they enjoy. When a white guy named Marcus offers them money to retrieve an envelope from a fancy house, they think they’ve hit the jackpot – that is, until Marcus is found dead.